Rhode Island lawmakers approve redistricting map

February 16, 2022 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island lawmakers have approved a redistricting plan for state and federal elections that protected incumbents and didn’t make wholesale changes to the state’s contested second congressional district.

The new maps passed 58-8 in the House and 29-9 in the Senate on Tuesday. They now go to Gov. Dan McKee to sign into law.

The state constitution calls for the General Assembly to reapportion state and congressional districts after each 10-year federal census.

Although some district boundaries changed, no incumbent General Assembly members were placed in the same district, where they would have to run against each other.

“This is the culmination of a years long effort to maintain the status quo,” John Marion, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause Rhode Island, told The Boston Globe. “They did not hide the fact that the goal was to let the incumbents draw the maps as they pleased.”

Democrats also did not make major changes to protect the state’s second congressional district — where incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin has announced he would not seek reelection — to prevent a Republican from winning the seat this fall.

State Rep. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung, who is married to GOP congressional candidate Allan Fung, thanked Democratic House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi for not gerrymandering.

“I think a lesser person might have played some games and the fact that the bills came through as is says a lot about your leadership in Rhode Island, where we are used to games happening,” Fenton-Fung, a Republican, told The Providence Journal.

A new way to count inmates at the state prison in Cranston was also approved. The state has long counted inmates as residents of the district where the prison is located, which boosts the population of Cranston at the expense of the inmates’ home districts. Now inmates serving two years or less will be counted at their former addresses.

Critics called it “prison gerrymandering,” and wanted all prisoners to be counted at their former addresses.

Lincoln Republican Sen. Thomas Paolino objected to a change that moved a slice of his district and about 600 residents into Smithfield Democrat Stephen Archambault’s district. The slice includes land in Lincoln owned by Archambault, who served as co-chair of the redistricting commission.

“There is simply no reason to do this,” Paolino said.

Archambault has said that the Lincoln neighborhood has several shared interests with his district and he does not plan to move from Smithfield to build on his Lincoln property.

The chair of the Rhode Island Republican Party has filed a complaint with the attorney general’s office, accusing the state redistricting commission of violating the Open Meetings Act.

But House and Senate leaders said the six-month process involving 18 public meetings and maps posted online was historic in its transparency.